Category Archives: Eco-Activism

My Life, Unplugged

From mid 2005 to 2008 I lived in a half built house in the woods with no electricity, no running water and no plumbing. Learning to live unplugged is an experience I think everyone should have at least once, and preferably for a couple of full cycles of the seasons.

I felt vividly alive swinging my feet from the tailgate of a pickup truck parked in the back field. I learned things with a hot coffee warming my fingers and coyote songs raising the hair on the back of my neck that they don’t teach in books.

Modern life is built around electricity. We use it to cook and clean, to charge our gadgets, to run our wifi, computers, televisions and cordless phones. We rely on electricity for entertainment, convenience and comfort. People lose count of the number of appliances that are plugged in and standing by at any given moment. Nobody notices the humming of the refrigerator. We take these luxuries for granted, and then we complain that we feel disconnected from the natural world.

When there is no fridge to keep your perishables from perishing and a hand pump is required to get water from the well, you invent all kinds of new ways to manage day to day necessities. Tasks like cooking, bathing, laundry, food handling and dish washing are no longer simple affairs. There is no time to sit around. This lifestyle requires work, and when the work is done it requires maintenance.

Life doesn’t happen the same way when you live in a shack in the woods without modern conveniences. There is no hot water tank in a house without electricity. There is a wood stove in the winter, the sun or a cook fire in the summer. Tooth brushing is not as simple as turning a tap. Making coffee involves pumping water out of the well, heating it by whichever means is available and drinking it or pouring it into a thermos to keep warm. Breakfast doesn’t come from a toaster. It comes from a chicken, or a garden, or a handful of oatmeal on the wood stove.

The food you eat is less processed when you don’t have a microwave or a freezer. Learning to shop for foods that store well and can be prepared in a variety of ways becomes very important. Growing and raising as much of your food as possible makes sense.

Contrary to popular belief, it is easier to live without electricity in the winter, when cold storage is found on the back step or in a snow bank and the wood stove that warms your house is always available to heat food or water.

Something happens. It’s not all heavy lifting and hard work. You get in touch with the seasons. You become more aware of sunrise and sunset – and if you are like me, you take twenty minutes in the morning and at night to watch them happen. You begin to pay attention to the temperatures, not the weather network. You actually notice the signs of a big frost in the days leading up to it, rather than being told. Extending the growing season becomes a matter of survival and common sense, instead of idealistic puttering and relaxation.

It makes sense to go to sleep a little while after the sun goes down. The light is gone. The day has been exhausting and rewarding. It’s time to climb into bed and rest. When you wake up the sky will be starting to turn a dark sapphire blue. It’s a colour that only happens right before the sun begins to rise. It’s the signal that a new day is fast approaching and there is work to be done.

I live in a different house now. It’s a modern house, on the grid. I enjoy my luxuries as much as the next girl and I understand the impact they have on my life. I still do a lot of the things I did when I didn’t have electricity. I enjoy a lot of the same hobbies and I still grow a lot of my food. Spending time outside and watching the weather and temperatures are high priorities for me.

Since living in the woods I pay more attention to what is plugged in and why. I understand how noisy a house is when you have electricity and appliances plugged in and what a quiet house sounds like.  Every once in a while when the power goes out and the incessant white noise stops I close my eyes and hear coyotes.

Republished with permission. Originally appeared on Treewise

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Silvery Blue

 

” The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity.”  ~ George Carlin

The Silvery Blue, Glaucopsyche lygdamus, is a small bright iridescent blue butterfly found across North America. They are considered to be a common species and fairly abundant.

Their wingspan is approximately 18-28 mm. The upper side of the wing is a bright silvery blue in the male of the species, with a dark border, while the upper side of the female’s wing is more of a dull blue grey with a much wider border. For both male and female, the underside of the wing is grey with a single row of dark round spots bordered by white. These spots will vary in size depending on the region.

There are a number of subspecies of Glaucopsyche lygdamus, but it is the subspecies couperi that is found in Canada, and it has been reported in every canadian province and territory. It can be found in meadows, woodland, sand dunes and on roadsides, feeding on a variety of plants such as vetches, clover, lupine, alfalfa and flowers. They are often found in damp places.

The eggs of this species are laid on flower buds, where the newly hatched caterpillars will be able to feed on the opening flowers. The color of the caterpillar will depend on the food material they are consuming but all have white hairs.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”  ~ Unknown

Silvery blue butterfly caterpillars have a symbiotic relationship with ants. They possess what is called a “honey gland.” This gland secretes a sweet liquid that attracts ants, which then feed on the liquid and offer protection to the caterpillar.

This particular Silvery Blue male is one I found on the weekend. He was flying from flower to flower, and did not spook easily when I decided to take his picture. I have noticed a few of these around this year. With all the news about eastern Canada getting ten times more butterflies than we typically do, I hope to see more of them.

 “But these are flowers that fly and all but sing:
And now from having ridden out desire
They lie closed over in the wind and cling
Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.”
~Robert Frost, “Blue-Butterfly Day”

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Pigeons

“Accept that some days you are the pigeon and some days the statue.” ~ Dilbert [Scott Adams]

Lately I have noticed quite a few pigeons hanging around my yard. Pigeons can be found nearly everywhere, in cities and small towns. They are bred in captivity as performers, messengers and pets. Varieties exist which have been bred for various physical characteristics as show birds.

While I have always loved to watch tumbling pigeons, and admired homing pigeons for their incredible built in “gps” and the ability to fly great distances to return to their loft, I am not sure how I feel about these wild pigeons suddenly crowding my feeders and wandering around my yard.

 

Pigeons are considered to be one of the most intelligent bird species. It is the only non-mammal species that has the ability to recognize itself in a mirror. They see in color, and also see the ultra violet spectrum that humans cannot. These amazing birds have demonstrated an ability to recognize people in photographs and to differentiate between different people in them. They are able to recognize all of the letters of the alphabet.

In both world wars pigeons were used to carry messages from the front lines. They have been used on ships to carry messages in the event of a u-boat attack. Project Sea Hunt, a team of Navy researchers have found the birds to be very good at seeing red and yellow life jackets, making them ideal for search and rescue in the water.

Pablo Picasso, the famous artist, loved pigeons so much that he named his daughter Paloma, which means pigeon in Spanish.

Some religions (muslims, sikhs, hindu) feed pigeons as a religious practice, believing that the birds carry their prayers, and as an act of caring for their deceased ancestors. In christianity the birds are a symbol of the holy spirit and of peace.

Pigeons mate for life, and can breed as many as 8 times in a single year, usually having two young each time. The young are known as squabs, and are considered a delicacy in many places in the world.

Today, pigeons are considered a pest species. Being prolific breeders and opportunistic scavengers, a small flock can reproduce quickly and become a large problem.

“The only difference between a pigeon and the American farmer today is that a pigeon can still make a deposit on a John Deere.”  ~ Jim Hightower

Pigeon droppings in particular pose a problem. Wild pigeons are known to carry a variety of diseases, three of which can harm humans. These are not your simple flu bugs either. Diseases such as histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis and psittacosis can lead to seizures, blindness and even death.

In 2011, Erica Richards, a 23 year old Fredericton, NB woman contracted cryptococcal meningitis, a fungal disease carried in the feces of pigeons. This form of meningitis attacks the brain and the spine causing swelling and often death. After weeks spent in the hospital undergoing treatment, Ms Richards did survive, but is now blind as a result of the illness.

While I love pigeons, and find them fascinating and beautiful, I am wary of their potential as a pest and carrier of disease.

Various techniques for getting rid of pigeons exist, from birth control and live traps to shooting them. Some places have introduced peregrine falcons, a natural predator of the birds to help eradicate them. I can’t imagine going to these lengths for the dozen or two that are hanging around here, but I am considering getting an owl statue in an attempt to scare them away.

Baby pigeon said, “I can’t make it; I’ll get too tired.”

His mother said, “Don’t worry; I’ll tie a piece of string to one of your legs and the other end to mine.”

The baby started to cry.

“What’s wrong?” said the mother.

“I don’t want to be pigeon towed!”

 

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Have you ever seen an Owlet?

“The owl that calls upon the night, speaks of the unbelievers fright”  ~William Blake

There is nothing more adorable than a baby right? The babies of some species are practically irresistible. I have long known this about goats (kids), ducks (ducklings) and kangaroos (joeys) but I think I may have found the cutest babies on the planet. Have you ever seen an owlet?

There are more than 130 species of owl worldwide, with approximately 19 of those found in North America. The smallest known species is the elf owl, some individuals stand only 5 inches or 14 centimeters tall, and the largest species, the great grey owl, sometimes measuring as tall as 33 inches or 84 centimeters.

Due to advances in science and technology, we are now discovering many new facts about this mysterious species. Cameras are recording their courtship, mating and nesting habits, and the average person can easily watch the entire process from egg to parent.

The following owl nest cams are a few of my favorites. All of them have young currently in the nest, in various stages.

Mel and Sydney – Barn Owls

Owlivia and Owliver – Barn Owls

Hoot, Toot and Tiny – Barred Owls

Baleef de Lente – Eurasian Eagle Owl

Ms Harvey – Great Horned Owl

 “I think everyone will remember the first time they saw an owl” ~Kim Kuska

The owl has long been both venerated and feared in many cultures around the world. Believed to have sinister supernatural powers, the carcass of an owl was once nailed to doors to ward off lightning and evil. In some Native American tribes, owl had particular significance as an omen of death, in others, a protective spirit.

One of the most striking features of any owl is the eyes. Owl’s eyes are not round, but tubular, which means they are unable to move them around as humans do. The eyes are large, and well adapted to low light conditions, as most owl species are nocturnal. To protect their eyes, owls have three eyelids, upper, lower and a third nictitating membrane which closes from inside to outside and moves diagonally. Though their eyes face only forward, their heads have the ability to turn as much as 270 degrees, allowing a very good view indeed.

It is no wonder they have been regarded with such superstition.

  “All primitive people are frightened of owls,’ said Harley. ‘The villagers here are scared to death of the gufo. Birds of ill omen. If they see one, they think they’ll die. But they never do. See one, I mean, of course,’ he added with a laugh.” ~Francis Brett Young, Cold Harbour

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Birds Eye View

 

 Voyeur  –  voi-yur  – nounan obsessive observer of sordid or sensational subjects.

Of all the many incredible and wonderful uses of technology, nest cams must certainly be among the most enjoyable. We live in an age when one can literally manage their entire life without leaving the house. It should come as no surprise then, that we have reached the point where it is possible for the general public to observe up close and personal, the goings on in the natural world, through well placed cameras which stream their content live 24 hours per day.

Every spring, during the nesting period, cameras are set up near known nesting sites and the observation begins. Universities, organizations and even the general public are able to share their nest cams with anyone who is interested. This year, there are a number of nest cams that I have been watching.

 

Great Blue Heron Nest Cam

The great blue herons nest is in a large dead oak tree in sapsucker woods in the middle of a pond. The tree has stood for over fifty years, and this particular pair of herons has been nesting there since 2009. Each year the pair have raised four young, and this year they have two eggs so far, and we hope, more to come.

 

Red Tailed Hawk Nest Cam

“Big Red” and “Ezra” are a pair of red tailed hawks who have been nesting on a light pole 80 feet above Cornell University’s athletic fields for four years now. The pair is banded, and estimated to be approx  6 and 9 years old. Currently there are three eggs in the nest.

 

Hummingbird Nest Cam

 This nest contains two tiny hatchlings. The nest itself is only about an inch and a half in diameter. Mom has been happily sitting on the nest, but frequently zips away to grab some food, so it is very easy to get a look at the young.

 

Peregrine Falcon Nest Cam

 In Columbus Ohio, the Dept of Natural Resources has placed this nest cam near the nest of a pair of falcons. The camera is accompanied by a blog which contains important updates and significant events, as well as various video clips and still photos.

Bald Eagle Nest Cam

This fantastic cam features a full view of two young eagles in the nest. The pair are still fluffy grey balls of downy fuzz, and the proud parents are working around the clock. The moderated chat is very informative and the site contains a wealth of information on the study and conservation of Bald Eagles.

 

It is interesting to note the sheer number of people logging in to check on the status of these nests. Some contain chats that run simultaneously beside the video, and the same names tend to pop up again and again.

Through these cameras we are able to see the entire life cycles of various species, from egg, to parents. We learn about nesting behaviour, courtship, mating, egg laying, pipping, fledging and more, all with a birds eye view. The birds don’t appear to notice, or care about the presence of the cameras. Having some foreign equipment suddenly appear at their nesting site has not discouraged them.

While watching nesting cameras is not a sport for the impatient soul, many feature additional previously recorded clips of major events, such as egg laying and pipping that can be watched after the fact for those who missed it live. Most camera watchers check in periodically to catch updates and see how things are going.

I can’t think of a better way to enjoy my morning coffee.

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”  ~Henry David Thoreau

 

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